How to: Write a book with Sparks
Nicholas Sparks drives a Bentley.
This does not speak to the content of his character, necessarily, but it does address the contents of his wallet, which are profuse. The literary game has been good to him.
Since selling his first novel, “The Notebook,” to Warner Books in October 1995 — for $1 million — he has written 13 more novels and one nonfiction travelogue. All his books have spent months on bestseller lists, six have been made into films and a seventh, a film version of “The Lucky One,” is scheduled for release early next year. His 16th book, “Safe Haven,” comes out Tuesday and if the past is any indication, it, too, will be a bestseller.
In fact, “Sparks-esque” is now a valid descriptor for scores of books that have been published in the wake of his success — sensitive books with soft-focus, pastel covers and everyday characters learning lessons, coping with secrets and falling in love, again.
Which leads to this thought: If they can do it, why can’t you?
Whatever alchemy Sparks (and all his imitators) have wrought surely can be reproduced to resounding success. With that in mind, we present the “Write Your Own Nicholas Sparks-Style Book and Make a Lot of Money Guide to Literary Success!”
Just follow this handy-dandy guide and write your own bestseller.
First, you have to name the thing.
Choose two or three of the following words, put them together (add articles and helping verbs as needed) and create a title: Harbor, Love, Coast, Caretaker, Journal, Magnolia, Trustee, Secret, Forever, Journey, Bicycle, Soldier, Hidden, Bittersweet, Locket, Memory, Forgotten, Legend, Radio, Sand Dollar, Sailboat, Tire Swing, Trunk, Reunion, Piano, Antique.
“The Forgotten Tire Swing”
“Soldier in a Sailboat”
“The Antique Bicycle”
Next, your book needs a cover. The design style is (choose one):
Early Tampon Box
You know how when you push on the bottom of your eyeballs and everything looks kind of fuzzy and round at the edges? That.
Reminiscent of the scene in “The Sound of Music” where Maria and Captain von Trapp dance the Lendler and then, suddenly, everything is soft-focus and moony.
Thomas Kinkaid, painter of light (TM).
The main motif on the cover is a (choose one):
Dune dappled with sea grass.
Sailboat on the sea with a bicycle, lighthouse, dune dappled with sea grass and a porch swing off in the distance.
Let’s not forget your author photo on the back! In it, you look (choose one):
Ready for a swim and/or barbecue on the beach.
Rich — very, very rich.
Now, for the plot. Your protagonist is (choose one):
A plucky, widowed mother with a secret.
A brooding young soldier with a secret.
A carnival worker with a secret.
A high school track coach with a secret.
A grandfather with a secret.
And that secret is (choose one):
An unexplained barn fire.
An appetite for animal blood and a certain sparkliness in sunshine.
$75,000 and a 10-inch hunting knife in an airport locker in Tacoma.
Kids. Two of ‘em.
A bundle of yellowed letters tied with a purple ribbon and smelling of lavender, and a sad smile.
Your hero lives (choose one):
In North Carolina, let’s say the eastern part.
On the North Carolina coast.
In a small town in North Carolina, possibly on the coast.
In the very northern part of South Carolina, right on the border with North Carolina and on the coast.
In a small southern town ... that’s on the East Coast ... in a state whose initials are N.C., if you get the drift.
Let’s just say, for argument’s sake, that your story takes place in a small town in North Carolina on the coast. Among the denizens of this town is (choose one):
A wise storekeeper.
A down-to-earth preacher.
A straight-talking beauty salon owner.
A secretive but ultimately kind next-door neighbor.
A grieving but decent, good and kind widow/widower, who just so happens to be quite attractive.
Obviously, two people are going to fall in love. The course of this love will be (choose one):
Smooth, but external influences — meddling family, perhaps, or war — will conspire to keep the lovers apart.
Rough, because one or both of them is a) grieving or b) leery of trusting someone again.
Smooth or rough, either way, but please, if there’s any mercy in the universe, devoid of idiot chick-flick tropes in which the lovers are kept apart by a misunderstanding that could be resolved by having ONE SIMPLE CONVERSATION. Sheesh.
The lovers fall in love during (choose one):
Days spent together at the beach, swimming and barbecueing and watching the sunset.
Explorations of the quaint shops in their small North Carolina town.
Long bike rides down country roads or, even, to the beach.
Simple but delicious dinners cooked at home.
Whimsical interludes such as spontaneous water fights after a car wash or an impish splash-fest during a swim in the creek.
And, of course, someone’s got to die. That unlucky person is (choose one):
Someone’s dad, particularly after fences have been mended and words of love spoken with said dad.
Your hero’s new boyfriend/girlfriend, especially after your hero has absorbed valuable life lessons and learned to love (again?).
Someone’s wife, so long as she’s kind and wise and ethereally beautiful.
Someone’s husband, so long as he had a hard life and thus wasn’t always easy to be married to, and the marriage wasn’t the greatest but the love was there, though faded, so his death brings all kinds of mixed feelings and self-recriminations and, let’s be honest, a certain relief that his inner demons are put to rest at last.
Someone’s mom, because you’re a heartless monster and what kind of author kills off someone’s mom?
We know that someone’s going to die because (choose one):
They are prone to gazing wistfully out of rain-streaked windows.
They cough just once as the story careens merrily along.
They just fell in love.
They make vague statements along the lines of “I’ll always be with you” or “Don’t worry, I’ve just been feeling a little tired lately.”
They say they’ll be right back as they rush into the storm/mudslide/fire.
So, climax-wise, your story peaks when (choose one):
Aliens invade Earth. Oh, wait, wrong book.
The library catches fire but there are people inside!
The hurricane rages and someone’s got to bring this load of fish into shore!
The hospital lights dim for the night, except for a golden corona around a certain bed, and certain last words are whispered into a nearby ear.
An “I choose you” decision is made.
The comments your publisher will pull from reviews to print on the dust jacket will say:
“A gentle reverie.”
“A quiet triumph.”
“A wise and sad meditation on life and love.”
“A real story with real people in real situations”
“This certainly was a book, alright.”